Monday, June 26, 2017

What I'm reading this week (6/26/17)

Last week I finished:

I feel like I cut my reading teeth on memoirs, especially memoirs written by middle-aged women who had been through it all. Folks like Anne Richardson Roiphe and Alix Kates Schulman, and the brilliant Anna Quindlen. I loved reading about the life I was about to embark on--marriage, motherhood (or so I thought), a writing career (or so I thought)--from the other end, a life lived. Amy Dickinson falls into that category, too. I loved her The Mighty Queens of Freeville about moving back to her small hometown to raise her daughter alone. Her latest, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, is the continuation of that story. Her daughter is off to college, and she finds herself falling in love with a local man with four daughters of his own. She talks about blending the families, becoming a stepmom, and losing her beloved mother. It's in turns wise and searching. She's an advice columnist ("Dear Amy"), so she knows the conventional wisdom on the situations she finds herself in, not that that always helps one. This is a well-written book. She writes in a straightforward, honest way, and you get to know and like the "characters" in her life. I am especially drawn to small-town life stories, having grown up in the smallest small town you can imagine. If felt very real. I found myself nodding along with the stepmom chapters. How I could have used what she knows now 15 years ago! Also, I must add, the newlyweds "wait" until they're married. How refreshing. My rating: 3.5 stars.  

How I long for another full-length Calpurnia Tate novel. I don't know if another one is on its way, so I have to be happy with the recent chapter book series. While I like these books (I've read two; a third is due out this fall) they don't hold a candle to the fully-fleshed full-length version (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate). They're fun for the younger set, and the illustrations are wonderful, but they aren't nearly as interesting for the adult crowd. At least, that's my assessment. The first one was about a skunk; this one was about sheep (and a wounded butterfly makes an appearance), and the next will be about an owl. Calpurnia is a young scientist (a "girl vet") at the turn of the last century--when it wasn't considered ladylike nor proper for a young girl to be interested in such things. It's a nice series, but I'm still waiting for another novel. Of course, I'm not the intended audience. My rating: 3 stars.

I was late to the party on the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, and while you really can't be too regretful about such things, I do regret not knowing what a wonderful writer Anthony Doerr is. I loved that book, and his memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, seals my affections. This book is about Doerr's year in Rome on a writing fellowship. He and his wife pack up their baby twins to live in Italy for a year, not being fluent in the language, not really knowing what to expect. While there, Pope John Paul II dies, and Rome becomes the site of the "biggest funeral in history." The book is written in a polished-up diary form. There really aren't any chapters or divisions, one entry leads to the next to the next, which makes it compulsively readable. His writing and imagery is beautiful. He's a master observer, and sometimes funny (like when he goes to the local grocery and asks for "grapefruit sauce"), and it's just such a pleasure to be along for the whole journey. If you love travel memoirs or "stranger in a strange place" memoirs, this is one you have to check out. My rating: 4.5 stars.
  
 
Last week I started:


My last book to read this month is My Life with Bob, a reading memoir by a woman who has kept a notebook of what she's read (a Book of Books: "Bob") for nearly 30 years. How I love books about books.

I also got a jump on my poetry read for next month: Poems to Read.
 

This week I'll finish:


It took me a long time to come around, but I think I love Rules of Civility. More on my complex feelings next week.


 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday (series)

This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking for the top ten series we want to start, but since I can't think of a series I want to start, I'm listing ten series I'm in the middle of. There's something so satisfying about finding a book you like and knowing there is a whole string of books just like them waiting for you. I'm far from finishing most of these, but they are all series I am actively continuing with, usually at the rate of a book per year.

Link up your post here.

 

I'm on book 4 of the Flavia de Luce murder mysteries series. These are cozy books set in England in the 1950s, and the protagonist is a precocious little sleuth with a penchant for chemistry and poisons named Flavia de Luce. I adore these books. The audio books are delightful, too. A ninth Flavia book is due out in January 2018.
 
I'm on book 5 of the charming Mitford series by Jan Karon. There are 10 books in this series, and the series is complete. These books are about the folks living in the Carolina mountain town of Mitford, especially the Episcopalian priest, Father Tim, and his family.
 
I'm on book 3 of Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I'm not normally one for books set in Africa, but I've fallen in love with Mma Ramotswe. She runs the best detective agency in Botswana. The 18th book in this series is due out in November of this year.

You know I love history books, and I really enjoy Bill O'Reilly's Killing... series. Killing England, which I believe is the seventh and final installment in the series, is due out this September. The books are fast-paced and well researched. I always learn something reading these books. This is the one series I'm caught up on!

I've read several Agatha Christie novels in the Hercule Poirot series, and this year I tried my first Miss Marple mystery. I think I'll continue with these books, my next likely being The Body in the Library.

I've just begun a new mystery series, having finished Louise Penny's Still Life last week. This is the first of 13 books in the still-active Chief Inspector Gamache series set in the quaint Quebec town of Three Pines. Book 2 is A Fatal Grace.
 
Last year I challenged myself to read a book about art, and I chose 50 Paintings You Should Know. I followed that up with 50 Artists You Should Know, and I've bought two others in the series: 50 Modern Artists You Should Know and Impressionism. There are many other titles in the series. I find them informative without being too lofty or difficult or boring--perfect if you want to know something about art, but don't want to know everything about art.

I've read both middle grade children's books about Calpurnia Tate, a girl scientist at the turn of the last century. There is also a series of three (more to come?) Girl Vet chapter books in the series. I'm on the second of these, Counting Sheep, and the third, Who Gives a Hoot?, will be out this October.
 
I'm on book 4 of the delightful Clementine books. Clementine is very much like Olivia and Eloise of the beloved picture books. Clementine always means well, but she's a handful. These books are so sweet and so funny, I just can't resist them. I believe there are seven books in this series, and it is finished.

By the same author and illustrator of the Clementine books, comes the new Waylon! series. This is some crossover here (Clementine makes an appearance in the series). The second book (shown above) is out on October.


And there are several series that I'm stalled on, like the Anne of Green Gable series, the Penderwicks series, the Harry Potter books, and the Little House on the Prairie series. I may continue, but I may just cut my losses. 


What are your favorite series?

Monday, June 19, 2017

What I'm reading this week (6/19/17)

Last week I finished:

I probably need to get into another series like, as my mother would say, I need a hole in my head, but I've added another to my plate. (Check back tomorrow for a post about the various series I'm reading.) I'd head a lot about the Louise Penny Chief Inspector Gamache series, now on book 11, I believe, especially from Anne Bogel, who loves the books. I'm always up for a good mystery, so I thought I'd try the first book and decide from there. I'm told, again by Anne, that the series doesn't really take off until book 4, which seems like a lot of investment, but after the first book I think I'm willing to wade through a couple lesser titles to get to the really good stuff. Book one, Still Life, is the story of the death of a well-liked elderly woman in the woods of the quaint Quebec town of Three Pines. Was it a hunting accident or was it murder? And if it was murder, which of her neighbors or friends had the motive? This was a simple, straight-forward mystery. There were no real twists or turns, no bombshells, just a couple red herrings. Where Penny shone was not necessarily in the crime aspect of the novel, but in the characters and setting of the novel. The characters felt real, the dialogue wasn't bad, and the pacing was perfect. The book never lagged, but it never sped too fast and left its reader behind. The crime was not grisly, so those who avoid murder mysteries because of blood or gory detail, needn't worry. I was surprised by the amount of swearing; there wasn't a lot, but I was expecting none, and indeed, the plot wouldn't have suffered had there been none. Also, there are a number of crass homosexual jokes told by a gay couple that made me make my "blech" face. Bottom line, though, I liked this one enough to continue with the series, which is a recommendation in itself. My rating: 3 stars.

I don't know how to review Sharon Olds' Odes. I have been reading Sharon Olds for years; she's always been one of my favorite poets. I was expecting a book of odes like Pablo Neruda's famous Odes to Common Things, where he writes about socks and tomatoes. I really should have known better. I think you'll have to check out the table of contents on Amazon to get an idea of exactly what you'll find in this one. As far as I'll go is to tell you these poems are by and large odes to sexual organs, sexual acts, bodily functions, and other unmentionable things. While Olds' poetry has always contained pockets of this kind of poem, here was a whole book of them, one after another. It kind of made me sick to my stomach. I had a hard time appreciating the poems, the skill, or metaphor, because the subject matter was so coarse. To follow up a collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning poems (Stag's Leap) with this was shocking. And that's the thing: I felt like the collection was going for shock value. I didn't like this, and I can't imagine ever rereading it. My rating: 2 stars.
 

This week I'll continue with:


I'm still loving Four Seasons in Rome. I've had a hard time reading it while listening to the news lately, though, because the news has been so captivating.

I'm liking Counting Sheep, but still hoping for another full-length Calpurnia Tate book soon.
 
 
My audiobook:


My current audiobook is Rules of Civility, and while it won't overtake my love of A Gentleman in Moscow, I can appreciate that Towles is a masterful writer. His plots are thin, but his characters are robust. He doesn't write about big events, but the books pull you helplessly along anyway.  
 

Next up:


I've been debating which of the two June reads that I have left would be next, but I think I've decided on Amy Dickinson's Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday (books for fathers edition)

This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking for our top ten books for fathers. I chose ten books I've recently added to my TBR (so I can't vouch for any of them). All are written by men, and most are about men or "manly" things.

Link up your post here.




Fiction


I don't know where Beneath a Scarlet Sky came from, but it was released May 1, and it already has nearly 4,000 Amazon reviews. I can't explain that. It's the fictionalized story of a real man, Pino Lella, an Italian who goes to war in WWII.

I'd like to try both of Richard Russo's small town life books, Nobody's Fool and Everybody's Fool, but at present I'm a bit overstocked on doorstop novels.


True Stories
 

I've never seen The Daily Show, and I wouldn't be able to pick Trevor Noah out of a crowd, but his autobiography about growing up a mixed-race boy in South Africa sounds fascinating. I hope to read Born a Crime soon.

I've head the title Confederates in the Attic before (it was published in 1998), but I never knew what it was about. Looking into it, the book sounds like something right up my alley. I love books that connect past and present, and I believe that is what folks love about this book. (I also have a thing for books about the South!)

In college, I had to read a book by Richard Ford for a class, and I didn't care for it, but I remember thinking he was a good writer regardless. He's just released a short book about his parents called Between Them, which I think I'd enjoy a lot.

 
About flight


This is the first and will likely be the last time I'll have a block of books about flight on my blog, but they all kind of found me at the same time.

The Flight is a biography of Charles Lindbergh's famous flight. (Can you biography a flight? Also, can you use "biography" as a verb? I think you should be able to do both).

I loved Laura Hillenbrand's book about Louis Zamperini (Unbroken), but for some reason I'd never been interested in Zamperini's own telling of the story, Devil at My Heels, until recently.

I finally watched the film Sully, the true story of Chesley Sullenberger landing a passenger jet in the Hudson River, a few weeks ago, and I loved it. I immediately ordered a copy of his memoir by the same name.


Fatherly advice


Who better to get life advice from than a retired U.S. Navy Admiral? I always have to force myself to resist the "graduation speech" books that come out this time of year. Something about them draws me like ants to sugar. I think I'll give in on Make Your Bed, though.

And lastly, Find Your Whistle. I've been on a quest to learn to whistle lately. (Yes, my life is full of excitement!) When this book popped up (published June 6), I was all over it. It's about finding the one thing you do, no matter how small, and blessing people with it. I love this idea. (Plus I'm hoping he throws in a whistling tutorial!)




 

Monday, June 12, 2017

What I'm reading this week (6/12/17)

 

Last week I finished:

I love The Dogist Instagram feed. I visit every morning to get my "pooch fix." The photos are wonderful, and the little accompanying stories are fun, too. And for the most part, unless the owner has a muzzle on their dog, the comments are even positive. The Dogist book is a collection of some of the photos that have appeared on the feed in the past. Most of them included names, ages, and breeds, just like the Instagram entries. I noticed a few things while perusing the book: (1) a whole lot of people name their dogs "Luna", (2) no matter what you name your Bulldog, it's hilarious, and (3) Pit Bulls look freakishly fearsome if you really look at them. I enjoyed this book, but I did have a couple of quibbles. First, I didn't enjoy the way most of the photos were tiled on a page. This made them much too small to enjoy, and with a dozen or two on a two-page spread, you couldn't focus and enjoy any one photo/dog. Second, I found the arrangement of the book odd. Some photos would be put into groups like "Ears" or "Clothes" or "Pit Bulls," but that wasn't the only place you'd find a specific breed or fantastic shot of a strange-eared pooch. I would have preferred a more straight-forward one-dog-per-page layout to let the photos shine. All in all, though, a fun book to sit down with. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I've been trying to read more contemporary fiction, but it's been an exercise in frustration. By this point, it's become a quest to determine why contemporary fiction irritates me so much. I have some theories, but I still don't feel like I've gotten to the heart of it. I always feel like I'm asked to lower my standards for great writing with contemporary fiction. And I feel like I have to constantly suspend disbelief. It makes me edgy and cranky. Be Frank with Me was my latest attempt to find a contemporary novel that I like, and it sort of flopped. I wouldn't say there's anything wrong with the book, per se, and I've been more disinterested in other current novels, but it certainly didn't turn the tide either. The plot: Alice is sent by a literary agent to babysit an author, M. M. (Mimi) Banning, who wrote a very well received book decades ago, and who is under contract to write another. Banning has a ten-year-old son, Frank, who has a social disorder (autism of some sort) but is an otherwise font of silver screen movie information. Throw in an unreliable handyman, a house fire, and Mimi's general animosity toward Alice, and you have the plot. I felt like I was supposed to love Frank, and I enjoyed him, but I was annoyed that they kept referring to him as a genius. To be sure, he knew a lot of facts, but I think the author has confused "smart" with "intelligent." A smart person can throw around a lot of facts that may or may not fit conversation, but an intelligent person can also navigate in society without needing to go prostrate on the sidewalk or repeatedly strike his head against a lamppost. Mimi was a neglectful mom and terrible person. We were supposed to think that responsible Alice was egotistical (other characters kept telling us that), but the author kind of forgot to write that into her characterization.  I felt it was cheap to make so many someones with obvious mental disorders "lovable" without getting any of them help or resolving any of their situations in the end. By the end, I was so ready to be done with all of the characters. My rating: 3 stars.

Before reading Killers of the Flower Moon, I'd never heard of the Osage murders. It's not something that would appear in history books, and it was long enough ago that it wasn't in the national consciousness anymore. It's a fascinating and sad story. After the American Indians had been removed from the land they'd been living on and given what most (the government, anyway) assumed was inferior land for their reservations, oil was discovered under the Osage Indian reservation near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Almost overnight, the Osage were rich. In the early 1920s, however, something distressing began to happen: the Osage were being killed off one by one for their headrights (their granted land), worth millions of dollars. Many of the Osage had government-appointed guardians (all white men) in charge of their fortunes, making it easy for the white men to manipulate the system and funnel the large inheritances to themselves after killing the Osage (usually by poison). For the most part, the courts were unwilling to prosecute these cases. When the Osage were being murdered (two dozen documented cases, though many Osage now say it was probably 100s of cases), J. Edgar Hoover, the eager head of the newly-established FBI, sent agents to Oklahoma to get to the bottom of the murders once and for all. So, what you have here is part murder mystery, part history lesson, and part present-day investigative journalism. It's a quick, interesting read. I recommend it. My rating: 4 stars.




Last week I began:
 

I've been so excited to try the first Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novel, Still Life. So far, so good.

And I'm happy to be reading another Calpurnia Tate book, Counting Sheep, even if it is a chapter book.


This week, I continue with:
 

I'm loving Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome. He really is a very good writing.

Oh, keep posted for the full review of Sharon Olds' Odes. Never have I been more concerned about what I'm going to write in a review!


I began the audio version of:
 

I've been looking forward to Amor Towles' Rules of Civility ever since I finished (and LOVED) his A Gentleman in Moscow last fall.  


 

Monday, June 5, 2017

What I'm reading this week (6/5/17)


 Last week I finished:


You guys! I've found my newest number one book of 2017. It's so impossibly hard to write a review about a book you love. I wish I could just say "read this Beartown," and you would, and you've love it too. But I'll try a little harder than that. First, this one might not be for everyone. Perhaps the very sensitive or folks with certain triggers would struggle with this book's subject matter. But for those of you looking for a book that's written better than almost 100% of contemporary fiction today, this is your book. For those looking for believable characters that the author knows exceptionally well, this is your book. For those who need a book that makes you feel by showing you how characters, indeed a whole town, feels, this is your book. For those looking for a book that challenges you, enlightens you, and lets you squirm in the place it puts you, this is your book. For those looking for a masterfully-told story, where the plotting is impeccable, this is your book. For those of you looking for a long book you can sink your teeth into but is also a real page turner, this is your book. For those who need a book that checks all the boxes, a book about hope and redemption, a losing town and a winning team, the dangers of youth, the impossibilities of parenthood, how kids try to protect parents, how parents can't protect kids, this is your book. I can't think of anything I didn't like about this book. I do question this book coming out in time for summer, though, and not just because it's about ice hockey. There is nothing carefree or frivolous about this read. I hesitate to give you a plot synopsis, because the unhurried unraveling of the story is part of the genius of the writing. I'll say this: it's about a small town (I believe it takes place in Sweden, but it could be Anywhere Cold, USA) that is struggling with unemployment and a broken economy. All this town has is their pride and a winning hockey team that they've built from the ground up over the last decade. Hockey is life in this town, and the future survival of the town depends on the team winning. But something terrible happens to tears things apart. I will say that there is a violent act committed against a teenage girl, but it is not graphic. The book is more about the lead-up and after affects of this act. It is such a smart book, deftly weaving a whole towns-worth of characters and their goodness and flaws. If you've read other books by Backman, such as A Man Called Ove or Britt-Marie Was Here, you'll recognize the writing style, but the whimsical tone is not in this one. As much as I loved Ove and Britt-Marie, this departure is the only way he could have told this story. You just have to read this one. My rating: 5 stars.


I also finished Philip Levine's final book of poetry, The Last Shift. I enjoyed it. There's not much to say. Some of the poems I didn't love, of course, but there were a couple that really stood out. Levine is a standby for me. His poetry is honest and straightforward and generally about the working man, which always reminds me of my dad. My rating: 3 stars.



I've also been reading:


My wonderful experience with At Home in the World last month made me hungry for another travel memoir, so I finally picked up Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome. (He's the author of All the Light We Cannot See). I'm enjoying it so far.

And I'm having fun looking through The Dogist, street photos of dogs made popular on the Instagram feed of the same name.
 
 
My audio:



This is your typical contemporary fiction complete with boy somewhere on the autism spectrum (though, true to form, it never uses the word). I'm not loving it.

Next up: